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Fugitive premier addresses supporters, attacks coup-makers

 
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November 2, 2008

Thailand Political Stalemate:
Fugitive premier addresses supporters, attacks coup-makers

Exiled former Thai premier Thakin Shinawatra denounced his opponents Saturday in a telephone address to 90,000 loyal supporters packed into a Bangkok sports stadium, reported AFP.

Speaking from an undisclosed location, Thaksin thanked the crowd but told them he could not return to the kingdom from exile in Britain without a royal pardon after he was sentenced to two years in prison on corruption charges last month.

"I cannot return home because I was sentenced to two years' imprisonment," he said, adding that the case against him would be valid for another decade.

Thaksin went on to verbally attack the generals who overthrew him in a September 2006 military coup, to wild cheers from the crowd.

"They have abused the legal process to get rid of me. I was overwhelmingly elected prime minister twice yet I was overthrown in a military coup, and survived an attempted assassination," he said.

"My family and I have been attacked, our assets have been forfeited and I have been sentenced to jail, but my problems cannot compare to those facing our country," he said.

"Nobody can bring me back to Thailand except royal mercy or the power of the people," he added. His address was not carried by any Thai television or radio channels.

Thaksin fled to Britain in early August following his wife's conviction for tax evasion.

It was his first address to supporters since leaving the kingdom and being sentenced in absentia on October 21 to two years in jail for violating corruption laws. Several other corruption cases are outstanding against him.

About 90,000 of his fans, clad in red shirts signalling their pro-government stance, gathered at Rajamangala sports stadium in Bangkok's eastern outskirts, raising fears of clashes with rival protesters.

An army colonel told AFP that more than 2,000 troops were on standby in case the police required their assistance, but there were no signs of trouble.

Chaturon Chaisang, former leader of Thaksin's now-disbanded Thai Rak Thai party, earlier took to the stadium's stage to denounce the People's Alliance for Democracy, who have been holding anti-government rallies since May.

"We will not compromise with PAD on principle, but there is no clash or confrontation with them today," Chaturon told the cheering crowd.

 
Thai society is split between those who love or loathe Thaksin.

Fans of the twice-elected multi-millionaire, calling themselves the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), come mostly from the country's majority rural poor and say they are upholding democracy.

His detractors, represented by the PAD, have occupied the grounds of the prime minister's offices since August calling for the government to step down.

They claim the PPP, which was elected in December last year, is running the country on behalf of Thaksin, whom they accuse of corruption and nepotism.

Thailand's current prime minister, Somchai Wongsawat -- Thaksin's brother-in-law -- has been under increasing pressure to resign since bloody clashes on October 7 between PAD supporters and police left two people dead and nearly 500 others injured.

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